Disclaimer : I own nothing; it all belongs to J.K.Rowling. I’m just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Ginny Weasley stepped gracefully out of the fireplace into Arabella Figg’s eclectic parlor and began dusting herself off. Her brother Bill entered the room and grinned widely, wiping a smudge of soot off her nose.
“Ginny,” he exclaimed. “You’re a little early.”
Ginny leaned over and gave him a quick hug. She’d seen more of Bill since he’d been staying in Little Whinging than she had in all the years he’d lived in Egypt. Lately, he was constantly popping into Grimmauld Place to confer with Emmeline or, more often, Jacqueline, on the research they were doing.
Her mother was delighted by his frequent appearances, and she thought he kept coming by in appreciation of her cooking. While Ginny was always happy to see him, as well, and selfishly enjoyed getting the frequent updates on how Harry was faring, she suspected that Bill’s visits had less to do with either her family or food, and more to do with Jacqueline McClaggan’s presence at Headquarters.
Bill had confided to her that he and Fleur had broken up the previous Christmas. Fleur could be rather vain, and he had a problem with all the male attention she constantly attracted, he’d admitted sheepishly. Ginny smothered her grin; Bill, Charlie, and Ron had all inherited their mother’s possessive nature. The twins were more easy-going, like their father, and she fell somewhere in between. She coldly dismissed Percy from her musings altogether.
The fireplace flared again, and Ron stepped out, shaking the ash from his hair with his hand. He was letting his hair grow out, and it curled in wisps around his ears. Ginny thought it made him look a bit like a ruffian, but she kept that opinion to herself. Ron was not in the mood for criticism of any sort lately and frequently snapped at anyone who spoke to him. She was curious to see how he reacted to Harry when they saw him.
Ginny had been corresponding with Harry daily, sending her letters through Bill. Errol was getting too old and unreliable to be trusted with post to Harry, and Ron had become rather stingy with Pig. She’d written Harry about Ron’s failing to get his license to Apparate, but she hadn’t mentioned a lot about his attitude or explosive temper. She wanted to get Harry’s opinion on that first-hand.
She knew Ron was still adjusting to everything that had happened to him during his captivity, including the idea that he’d killed someone. Her parents had both commented on his sullen mood and insomnia. Ron prowled the house each night into the early hours of the morning before finally going to bed. He’d then sleep most of the day away. Her mum was concerned about him and reverted to her cure for everything: feeding him at every turn. Ron wasn’t complaining about that; he was always happy to eat. She’d also noticed her dad making quiet time each evening to sit and play chess with Ron, and she knew from the dull murmur of voices that they were talking about heavy matters.
“Hey, Ron,” Bill said. “Harry is going to be so glad to see you two; he was nearly giddy when I told him you were coming.”
“How is he?” Ginny asked, smiling as she imagined Harry’s eagerness.
“He’s improving…still a bit jumpy, though, so don’t make any sudden moves.”
“Has he been sleeping?”
“He says he does, but he’s still got those bags under his eyes, and he drops off in the afternoon. He’s been itching to test his magic, so I figure that has to be a good sign,” Bill replied. “I don’t know how he’s stood being stuck here every summer without going off the deep end. There’s very little to do, and those relatives of his treat him like dirt. I’d heard about them, of course, but I was still unprepared for it. It gives me a whole new appreciation for Mum; the slightest sniffle, and she’d have us in bed dosed up on Pepper-Up Potion. Harry may be one of the most famous wizards in the world, but the level of neglect he’s accustomed to – seems to expect, even – makes my skin burn. Sometimes, I feel guilty for what we’ve always had and I took for granted.”
Ginny and Ron were quiet, silently agreeing with Bill’s assessment. They may have never had a lot of money, but they’d always had unconditional love and support from their parents. She might shout at them a lot, but Molly Weasley loved her children, and they all knew it. Almost all of them, anyway. Even the twins knew that despite her harping, their mum was very proud of them.
“I went out and bought a football, and we’ve been kicking it around in the yard. It’s not Quidditch, but it passes the time, and I like how the tracks of our footprints on the lawn annoy his aunt,” Bill said, trying to break the somberness in the room.
“Is Harry healthy enough to be running around like that?” Ginny asked in concern.
“You’d better not let him hear you ask that,” Bill said, laughing. “He does NOT like to be coddled, and he’d give you an earful for suggesting it.”
Ginny laughed, knowing Bill was right. “That’s why I’m asking you and not him.”
Bill grinned. “I think it helps, actually, gives him something to do. What’s going on back at Headquarters?”
Ron rolled his eyes. “Like they’d tell us.”
Ginny had to agree with him; her mother was still adamant about keeping them away from anything to do with the Order. “Something is happening at the Ministry, but I’m not certain what. Whatever it is, it has something to do with Percy. I can tell by Mum’s reaction.”
“Git,” spat Ron. “I can’t believe he wanted Harry to throw in his support for Fudge. I don’t know how such an arrogant berk is actually related to us.”
Bill’s expression was thoughtful, though somewhat guarded. “Have Mum and Dad told you anything about Percy?”
“What is there to tell?” Ginny asked, narrowing her eyes.
“I suppose this is no secret; it’s public knowledge. Just…don’t let on to Mum you know, it only upsets her. Percy is engaged.”
“Engaged.” Ron sounded shocked. “Who’d want to marry him?”
Bill sighed. “She’s a well-connected Ministry official by the name of Pricilla…get this…Fudge.”
Both Ron and Ginny’s jaws dropped. Ginny recovered first. “You mean…he’s actually going to marry Fudge’s daughter?”
“Yep. They had a big Ministry gala just last night to announce the engagement. Looks like old Cornelius is grasping at any way to steer public opinion onto something more positive. The sad part is, it seems to be working. The Daily Prophet looks like a gossip column with all the write-ups on the upcoming nuptials.”
“But…Mum and Dad were at Grimmauld Place last night. Why didn’t they attend the gala?” Ginny asked.
“They weren’t invited,” Bill replied, his lips narrowing into a thin line. “In fact, Dad was pointedly told to stay away.”
“What?” Both Ron and Ginny screeched indignantly.
“They’re the parents of the groom. How could Percy do this to them? Poor Mum, her heart must be broken. She’s dreamed of a wedding for one of us for so long now,” Ginny cried.
“Yeah, well…Percy’s got pretty good at breaking Mum’s heart lately,” Ron said, nearly growling.
“Mum took it really hard; she’s always held on to the hope he’d come around,” Bill said. “She’s been obsessing over it since that day at King’s Cross, but now…with this…she’s resigning herself to the idea that she’s lost him. Pricilla Fudge is a piece of work – real snooty, with an attitude. I’m certain she looks down her pointy nose at Mum and Dad. As far as I’m concerned, she and Percy deserve each other.”
Ginny sighed and rubbed her temples. She didn’t want to think about Percy right now; she wanted to see Harry. She missed him and was anxious to see for herself how he was doing. She had to admit that she was very curious about the Dursleys, as well. Her mother had threatened her that she wouldn’t be allowed to return if she didn’t hold her temper. She’d solemnly given her word, but she’d also crossed her fingers behind her back. She wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize her chances of seeing Harry, but she wouldn’t allow them to bully him either.
She’d been disappointed when she learned Ron would be coming, too. She felt guilty about it, but wanted some alone time with Harry. She was hoping Bill would help her out with that. Being the eldest and the youngest siblings, they’d always had a special relationship and understood each other well.
“What did the twins have to do with last night?” Ron asked, surprising Ginny. She didn’t know anything about the twins being involved, and she’d been spending a lot of time with them at their shop. Grimmauld Place was dull and boring, especially with Ron being so moody. She’d been going into Diagon Alley with Fred and George; business was booming, and they’d started a mail order catalog. Ginny filled the incoming orders from a little office in the back.
Bill grinned again. “Well, Dad was told to stay away, but Fred and George managed to get themselves dates who were invited. I haven’t heard anything yet, but I’m certain they made their presence known.”
An evil grin spread across Ron’s face. “I hope they did us proud.”
Ginny’s smirk was just as devious. “Would you expect anything less?”
“I’ll be certain and fill you in once I’ve heard. If it’s anything like what I’m expecting, you’ll probably hear enough about it on your own,” Bill said.
“I don’t know about that,” Ron said, his mood turning sour. “With the way Mum’s been acting, we’re lucky if we can get anyone to tell us what the weather will be like ahead of time.”
Bill chuckled. “Go easy on her, Ron; she’s under a lot of stress. She was devastated when you and Harry went missing. She’d always been so certain of the safety of Hogwarts. You two being snatched right out of the castle really shook her.”
Ron grimaced, but remained unsympathetic. “I’m seventeen and legal, not a little kid.”
“But you’re still in school, and, as far as she’s concerned, she’d rather keep you, Ginny, and Harry as far from all of this as possible,” Bill said reasonably.
“Not likely with Harry,” Ginny muttered under her breath, and Bill’s eyes flew open wide.
“You do know, then,” he said, his voice no more than a whisper.
Ginny stiffened as she felt Ron jerk beside her. “Know what?”
Bill eyed them both for a moment; the tension in the room was heavy, and none of them wanted to move or breathe first. Ginny met Ron’s eyes, and he gave a slight shake of his head. It was nearly imperceptible, but Bill caught it, anyway.
“He told you about the prophecy,” Bill said finally. It wasn’t a question, more a foregone conclusion.
Ginny swallowed, feeling her throat close with apprehension.
“What do you know about it?” Ron asked, taking a step towards his brother.
“Dumbledore told the inner circle of the Order about it after we got you and Harry out of Malfoy Manor. Now that You-Know-Who knows the full contents, he thought it was better if we all knew what was at stake,” Bill said, sighing. “After he gets his own strength back, he’s going to come right at Harry.”
“Does Harry know that you all know?” Ginny asked, not wanting to think about Harry being a target yet again.
“I haven’t told him, and he hasn’t brought it up with me.”
Ron scowled. “Great, Dumbledore is pulling Harry’s strings again without his having a say. Didn’t he see how well that went over last time?”
“No wonder Mum has been so strung out,” Ginny said.
“Yeah. You should have seen her the night Dumbledore told us about the prophecy. Harry was still unconscious in the hospital wing at the time, and Mum ripped Dumbledore a new one. I’ve never seen anyone have a go at him like that. We were all stunned speechless; even Dad couldn’t calm her down. McGonagall finally gave her a Calming Draught.”
“Harry told us right after Christmas,” Ron said.
“Yeah, but he’s known about it since last summer; he just dealt with it all alone until then,” Ginny said, gritting her teeth. She still got upset when she thought about it; it was simply too much to bear alone.
“How does he cope with it all?” Bill asked, the awe clear in his voice.
“He doesn’t always,” Ron scoffed.
“Enough,” Ginny said. “Harry’s waiting for us, and he’s been alone too much already. Let’s go to Privet Drive.”
As they walked down the road, Ginny was amazed by the sameness of all the houses. House after house, without the slightest discrepancy from the one beside it. Even their gardens appeared the same. Everything about Little Whinging was so un-Harry-like; she couldn’t even imagine him growing up here.
She’d dressed lightly in shorts and a cotton top, but the heat was still oppressive, and she wished they could go swimming. She hoped Bill had remembered to cast a Cooling Charm on Harry’s room.
“That’s number four over there,” Bill said, pointing towards one of the endless houses.
She squinted and, in the distance, could make out a familiar form sitting on the steps, watching their approach. Ginny’s heart gave a gigantic leap; she’d know that messy hair anywhere.
She watched as Harry heaved himself up, shielding his eyes from the sun and squinting against the glare. He sprinted towards the fence, a wide grin crossing his features as he waited for them to meet him. She chuckled, watching him, as he bounced on the balls of his feet like a little kid, waving frantically. Her heart gave a little lurch; he must be lonely .
“I didn’t think you were ever going to get here,” he scolded as he reached through the gate and pulled her into a fierce embrace.
She laughed and kissed him soundly on the lips. “Harry, we’re not even late. Did you miss me, then?”
“More than you’ll ever know,” he whispered in her ear, the warmth of his breath on her neck sending a shiver down her spine.
“Hey, hey! Watch the mushy stuff with my sister; my eyes can’t take it,” Bill said, grinning.
A light blush stained Harry’s cheeks as he turned to Ron. The two friends shook hands and gave each other a brief, one-armed hug that involved more slaps on the back than anything else. Their affection for each other was obvious, and it touched Ginny.
“All right, Ron?” Harry asked.
“All right,” Ron answered.
Ginny observed Harry quietly as he greeted her brothers. Bill had told her that he was getting better, but he looked no different to her. He was pale and still too thin, despite the fact that Dobby was ensuring plenty of food was made available to him. Bill had mentioned that Harry didn’t have much of an appetite, and Ginny knew he usually stopped eating when something was bothering him. He gave her a tired smile as he caught her eye, but he somehow looked lost and very alone.
She took his hand securely in hers as Bill led them towards the door. As soon as they started walking, Ginny noticed how nervous Harry became.
“Listen,” he said. “I thought we’d head over to the park. I can bring the football, and we can kick it around.”
“Aww, Harry; it’s too bloody hot, even with Cooling Charms. Let’s just go in and have a drink, all right?” Ron said.
“Er…well, we have to pass Mrs. Figg’s house to get to the park. We could stop there and get drinks. I’m certain she wouldn’t mind,” Harry mumbled.
“We just left there, Harry. Besides, we’re here. What are you on about?”
Harry looked panicked; he kept glancing apprehensively at the door and cringed as Bill opened it. Ginny knew he didn’t want them to go inside, but her curiosity was piqued about what he was hiding. Besides, she really wanted to see where he lived; she’d heard so much about it, but she’d never actually been here. She gave his hand a reassuring squeeze and entered the house.
The first, overwhelming impression Ginny had was of cleanliness. Everything was spotless, unnaturally so…even the walls seemed to shine. It made her pull into herself slightly, not wanting to touch anything. The opening to her left led to a den, covered in picture after picture of a rotund, blonde-haired boy. Pictures of this kid – Ginny assumed it was Harry’s cousin Dudley – lined the walls, mantle, and every spare spot in the room. There wasn’t so much as a snapshot of Harry in sight. Ginny felt both annoyed at the indifference, and yet fascinated by the pictures that didn’t move at all.
Ron, too, was looking around the room in disgust at all the pictures of Dudley – baby pictures, birthday pictures, school pictures. Ginny could make out Harry’s aunt and uncle in a few of them, but only if they were with Dudley. It was as if Harry didn’t exist, nor have any place here at all. Her eyes were drawn to the corridor and the small door that led to the cupboard under the stairs. The locks and bolts made her blood boil. Ron had told her how these people had locked Harry up in there when he was just a little boy. He was innocent and defenseless, and they were entrusted with his care. He’d been completely alone, and they were his only kin…and they’d hurt him. Slowly, she walked over towards the cupboard and let her hand run along the door. She’d never felt such complete hate for another human being in her life, not even Tom Riddle. It made her want to hit something.
Ron noticed what she was doing and asked bluntly, “So, this is the infamous cupboard, huh, Harry?”
Harry jumped as if scalded. He turned and looked blankly at the cupboard, as if just registering it was there. “Yeah,” he replied, peering over Ginny’s shoulder towards the kitchen, “that’s my cupboard. Why don’t we go upstairs to my room? Wait until you see what Bill did to it. I’ll get Dobby to bring us some drinks.” Harry used his body to block them from the cupboard and tried to lead them up the stairs.
“What do you mean, ‘your cupboard’?” Bill asked.
Harry closed his eyes and bit his lip as Ron answered. “Harry’s relatives made him live in there for the first ten years he was here.”
“Excuse me?” Bill’s voice was quiet and deadly calm.
“Never mind,” Harry said, again trying to move them towards the stairs. “Come on, the room is really changed, you—”
Bill interrupted him mid-sentence by pushing past him and opening the door to the cupboard; it clattered back against the wall from the force. Ginny peered into a small, very dark space that contained nothing more than cleaning supplies. It was – like the rest of the house – eerily clean, but Ginny noticed several spiders scurrying along the wall. She imagined that if the walls could talk, they’d have many stories of abuse and neglect to tell, and her heart ached a little more for Harry and all he’d been through.
They were all startled by a loud ‘Harumff’ from behind them. Harry spun quickly, and Ginny noticed him grabbing for his wand. His Aunt Petunia stood in the hallway, glaring at him, her eyes narrowed in distaste.
“What is going on here?” she hissed. “I told you I would not have you bringing a group of your kind into this house. What is the meaning of this?”
“Yes, Aunt Petunia. We were just heading upstairs for a drink, then we’ll be leaving.” Harry answered, his eyes pleading with the others to hold their silence. Bill was having none of it.
“Good morning, Mrs. Dursley. Allow me to introduce my younger brother, Ron, and my sister, Ginny. They’ve come to spend the day with Harry. I noticed your garden is looking very interesting today.” He was referring to the fall mums that had suddenly bloomed in Aunt Petunia’s summer garden.
“Don’t think I don’t know it’s you who is behind it. It won’t work, either. My family will not be going anywhere with the likes of you,” she spat. “Get out of my broom cupboard.”
“Harry was just showing us his old room,” Ron replied, his lip rising in a sneer.
“Don’t you take that tone with me, young man. He was dumped here on us with neither word nor warning. We had no room for him and had to make due with what we have, and he was lucky to get it.”
“You have four bedrooms, Mrs. Dursley,” Ginny said quietly, barely controlling her fury at this woman’s callousness.
“And they were being used at the time,” Aunt Petunia snapped, her eyes appraising Ginny coldly. Ginny suspected she was remembering the passionate goodbye kiss she’d given Harry at King’s Cross. “We took him in out of the goodness of our hearts, and this is how he repays us? His birthday can’t come soon enough so I can be done with the lot of you. And there is to be no funny business under my roof, young lady.”
Aunt Petunia began advancing on Ginny as she said this last bit, and Harry moved to stand in front of her. “That’s enough, Aunt Petunia.” His voice was hard and flinty as he stared at his aunt with emotionless eyes. Petunia’s eyebrows had risen up into her hairline at his apparent disrespect.
Bill sought to diffuse the situation. “We’ll be heading out shortly, Mrs. Dursley. For now, I want to show Ron and Ginny the changes I’ve made to Harry’s room. Have you seen them? Would you care to join us for the tour?” He smiled engagingly, and Ginny had to stifle a giggle by how he was baiting her.
Aunt Petunia was livid; she glared at Bill with unabashed hatred as she turned on her heel and stalked back into the kitchen. Harry flinched as the door slammed, and Ginny watched him tense his shoulders as he clenched his eyes shut. There was more going on here than she was picking up on, but she was going to need some private time with him to figure it out.
Bill led them upstairs and into Harry’s room. She’d never seen it before, and Ron only had peered through the window before their second year, so neither of them could fully appreciate the difference. It was obvious how delighted Bill was, however. He went on and on, explaining how he’d recreated the Gryffindor boys’ dorm and pointing out the mahogany finish on the bed. Ginny watched Harry closely during Bill’s whole speech. His eyes were slightly glazed, and he obviously wasn’t paying attention; he seemed a million miles away.
She knew he was embarrassed by his aunt’s behavior, and Ron’s revelation about the cupboard, but there was more happening here. It suddenly occurred to her as she thought of her mother’s fussing over Ron, and her father taking time to play chess with him, that Harry was acting in much the same way as Ron, yet there was no one there to take those extra steps. In fact, Harry’s behavior his entire fifth year could be classified as a desperate scream for help that all the adults in his life – adults sworn to protect him – had missed. They were all so focused on the big picture that no one had taken the time to notice Harry slipping through the cracks. Not until Sirius had died, anyway.
Ginny wasn’t about to let that happen to him again, but she needed some private time with him. She was planning on visiting again tomorrow, without Ron, so it would have to wait until then. In the meantime, she’d just try and offer some support and get him to have some fun.
“Dobby, are you there?” Bill spoke to the empty room.
Dobby appeared instantaneously. “Hello, Mr. Wheezy, sir, what can I do to Harry’s repulsives today?” He beamed at Bill with a nearly maniacal glint in his large eyes.
Bill laughed, as Ginny questioned, “His repulsives?”
“He means my relatives,” Harry said, sighing. Dobby had coined the new phrase accidentally, but when Bill howled in glee over it, it had stuck. Dobby and Bill had become fast friends, each trying to outdo the other in coming up with ways to torment the Dursleys. Dobby was remarkably adept at sneaking around unnoticed.
Dobby had just caught sight of Ron and Ginny and squealed in delight. “It’s Harry Potter’s Wheezy and his Miss Wheezy, too. Dobby is welcoming them here. Harry Potter is very glad to have you visit. He is missing his Miss Wheezy very much, brings your letters to bed and talks to you when he is sleeping.”
Harry’s face colored a brilliant shade of scarlet, as he rushed to move Dobby away from Ginny. “Dobby, we’re all really hot and thirsty. Could you get us something cold to drink?”
“Of course, Mr. Harry Potter, sir. Dobby will be right back,” he said before disappearing with a “pop”.
Both Ron and Bill wore amused smirks on their faces, and Harry nearly groaned, seeming to dread the teasing he was about to endure, when Ginny broke the silence. “So, you’ve been talking about me in your sleep, Potter? And here I’ve been worrying you’d be having nightmares. I hope I at least gave you something worthwhile to talk about.” She smiled at him and lowered her eyes suggestively.
Harry nearly fell off the bed in shock, and the grins dropped from both of her brothers’ faces.
“That’s enough about that; I don’t want to hear this. Any of it. Ever,” Ron said, obviously flustered.
Bill was staring at Ginny in shock; she knew he sometimes forgot she was no longer a child, and she enjoyed reminding him. She smirked triumphantly and winked at Harry’s stunned expression. She had known exactly what the result of that comment would be, and she gave herself silent credit for derailing them.
Dobby returned with the refreshments and, after finishing their drinks, they decided to take the football over to the playpark for a while. Dobby had packed them a picnic lunch with a Cooling Charm to take along with them.
When they arrived, Ginny immediately went for the swings. The equipment had been repaired since the previous summer, and, with the summer holiday just starting, Dudley’s gang hadn’t got around to damaging it all again yet.
“Come on, Harry, give me a push,” she said, smiling. He grinned in return and walked up behind her, pulling her back and pushing the swing forward. As Bill and Ron began looking around, she leaned back and quietly asked, “How are you really doing, Harry?”
“Not so good,” he whispered.
Despite his answer, she was pleased that he was still being honest with her. “I know, luv. What’s going on?”
“Long story; I’ll fill you in later.”
“Okay,” she replied, not happy with the answer. She knew it would be easier to talk to him when they had some privacy, but she was becoming alarmed. He pushed her on the swing for a while, laughing as he did and falling easily back into their familiar camaraderie. It was good to be with him again. After a while, he grew quiet as he continued to push her. Looking at him closely, she realized how pale he’d become, and the force of his pushes grew weaker and weaker. She jumped off the swing and took his hand. “Come on, let’s sit in the shade under those trees for a bit.”
They sat down, and Ginny began digging through the picnic basket. At the sound of the food being opened, Ron and Bill joined them. As they began eating their lunch, Harry suddenly called out, “There’s plenty of food, Dud. You can sit if you want.” His voice sounded so stiff and tentative, as if he expected a rebuke. She looked over to see his cousin standing near the fence, observing them quietly.
Dudley didn’t move to approach them, but he didn’t turn away, either; he just stood there, shifting from foot to foot. Finally, he began to trudge closer, his eyes darting back and forth in a slight panic.
Ron had looked up, surprised by the interruption, as well as Harry’s invitation. She knew Ron was not fond of Harry’s cousin, understandably so, but she hoped he’d told his tongue until she could figure out what was happening. She wasn’t in luck.
“What do you want?” asked Ron, rising to his feet.
“It’s all right, Ron,” Harry said.
“Hello, Dudley,” Bill spoke. “What can we do for you?”
“N-nothing,” Dudley stammered. “I was just walking by and saw you all sitting over here. I’d wondered who Mum had been ranting about.”
Bill smiled, a devilish glint in his eye. “That would be us. Let me introduce my brother, Ron, and my sister, Ginny. Ron, Ginny, this is Harry’s cousin, Dudley.” He glared hard at Ron, trying to remind him with his eyes that Dudley had no memory of Christmas.
Dudley nodded towards the two, then looked over at Harry. “She told you to keep them outside.”
“Well, we wanted to go in,” Ron said, defending Harry instantly. “We weren’t doing anything to her.”
Dudley sighed. “I don’t know why you keep pushing them so they come down on you. You could make it much easier on yourself if you stopped trying to set them off all the time.” He was conversing with Harry as if the rest of them weren’t even there.
“What do you mean by that?” Ginny asked him.
He looked at her for a long time, as if trying to figure her out, and she didn’t think he was going to answer until he turned to glare at Bill. “They know it’s you who’s been making all that funny stuff happen at the house, but they take it out on him.”
“Dudley,” Harry said, his shoulders tensing.
Bill’s face had lost its look of pride at Dudley’s last comment. “How do you mean ‘take it out on him’?“
“He doesn’t mean anything,” Harry interrupted. “I thought we were going to kick the ball around. We’ll see you later, Dudley.”
“Why are you protecting them?” Dudley asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Answer my question, please. Exactly what is going on at your house, Dudley?” Bill asked. His tone was polite, but Ginny knew from years of living with a house full of brothers that he was trying to hold back his anger.
“Just that as soon as you leave, they’re all over him for all the mess in the yard. They make him do extra chores to clean it all up every night until he nearly passes out.”
“That’s enough, Dudley,” Harry said. “I do not pass out.”
“I’ve seen you barely able to drag yourself up the stairs,” Dudley replied, and Ginny couldn’t help but notice he was enjoying Harry’s discomfort.
“They what?” Bill demanded; he whirled on Harry. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“It’s not that bad,” Harry replied, glaring at an unmollified Dudley. “What’s it to you, anyway; why are you telling them all this?”
“I’m trying to figure you out, and I can’t. It doesn’t make any sense. For the first time in your life, you’ve got something to use over them, and instead of using it, you just keep trying to calm them down. I don’t get it.”
“Harry, the whole point of this was to try and convince your relatives to move to Headquarters, not to make things any more difficult for you. We can’t know what’s going on if you don’t speak up.” Bill was exasperated. Ginny knew he was used to dealing with younger brothers who exploded when they were pushed around or got angry. Harry was so very different from the other Weasley boys, but, then again, his circumstances were so completely different, as well.
Harry hung his head and refused to meet any of their eyes. “You’ll never get them to leave Privet Drive.”
Ginny’s heart ached for him, knowing how embarrassed he was that they all knew how his ‘family’ treated him. She wound an arm around his waist and pulled him closer, trying to offer comfort. “But, Bill,” she said, “if it’s not working, you’ll stop it, right? There’s no reason to make it any more difficult on Harry.”
“No, we’ll leave the yard alone. We’re just going to have to come up with something else.”
Harry sighed and leaned into Ginny’s touch. She could see he was growing tired but wanted more time with him before he rested. He’d had enough of this conversation, and Ginny remembered her goal to see to it that he had some fun. “Where is that football? Let me try it out.”
All of them, including Dudley after some peer pressure, kicked the ball around the playpark for a while. Bill cast a Cooling Charm over them as they played, and Dudley seemed quite taken by the relief from the heat.
Harry’s cousin was big and obviously unused to running; it was easy to get the ball around him. After he relaxed, he seemed to enjoy himself, as well. She caught him watching her on several occasions, but whenever she’d catch his eye, he’d turn away. Only Ron seemed unwilling to drop his guard. “How come you’re all of a sudden okay with us?” he asked Dudley after he’d kicked the ball away from the larger boy.
Dudley shrugged, looking at Bill. “You’ve been hanging around for the past week, and you don’t seem so bad. I dunno, none of the stuff you’ve done has been all that serious. Messing with Mum’s garden – and especially Dad’s car – is kind of funny.
Harry grinned. “The mud on the car is pretty funny.”
“How many times did he make you wash that thing the first night?” Dudley asked.
“Dunno, lost count. I was trying so hard not to laugh and give it away.”
“Give what away? He knew that magic was involved. Even if not, he would have blamed you for it, anyway.”
They played for a while more, but when Ginny noticed Harry leaning against a tree for support, she knew he’d had enough. They walked him back to Privet Drive, but remained outside the house so as not to further upset his aunt.
“That was kind of fun,” Ron said. “It’s not Quidditch, but it was okay. Don’t ever tell Dean Thomas I said that.”
Harry and Ginny both grinned, knowing Dean’s obsession with football and the other wizard boys’ determination on insisting it paled in comparison to Quidditch.
“What’s Quidditch?” Dudley asked.
Ron looked at him as if he asked the color of the sun. “Only the best sport ever. No exceptions.”
“It’s a wizard sport,” Harry said. “It’s played on broomsticks in the air. It really is the best.”
“Harry’s been on our House team since his first year. He was the youngest Seeker in a century,” Ron said, praising his friend.
“Ron’s our team captain; he plays Keeper, which is a kind of goalie. Ginny is a Chaser; she tries to score on the other team’s Keeper,” Harry said.
Dudley looked wary, but interested, nonetheless. “What does a Seeker do?”
“A Seeker looks for another ball, called the Golden Snitch. It’s very fast and hard to see. Usually, whoever catches the Snitch wins the game,” Ginny said.
“Are you any good?” Dudley asked.
“Never lost a game,” Ron answered for him. “Well, not without outside interference, anyway.” They all glanced warily at Harry, not wanting to bring up any reminder of the Dementors. Harry kept his gaze firmly ahead, but Ginny had felt his body tense.
“Okay, we really need to get moving. Dudley, would you make certain Harry gets upstairs okay?” Bill asked.
“Yeah,” he responded.
“I can get upstairs on my own, thanks,” Harry said testily.
“Do it, anyway,” Bill said to Dudley.
Ginny wrapped her arms around Harry’s waist and told her brothers to turn around and face the other direction. They did so with grins on their faces, and Dudley followed suit. She proceeded to give him a long kiss goodbye. “I'll be back tomorrow, and we’ll get to have some time alone. I want to hear all about what’s been going on around here,” she whispered.
Harry didn’t seem to be paying attention at all; he was far more interested in keeping her mind on the kissing, not the talking. She pulled away first, overhearing Ron threatening Dudley,
“If it’s taken you fifteen years to realize he’s okay, well, you’re a bloody idiot. But if you’re just setting him up for something, I’m warning you…you’d better not hurt him, or it’s me you’re going to have to answer to. And since I’m of age, I don’t have to worry about any restrictions on the use of magic. I’m free to do as I see fit, and I won’t mess around with mud on cars or weeds in the garden.”
She really loved her brother sometimes and felt remorseful for all the negative things she’d been thinking of him recently. They all waved their goodbyes and set off towards Mrs. Figg’s house. Ginny was already anticipating the next day.
A/N: Yes, I changed Jacqueline’s last name to McClaggan after reading JKRs comment that it would be the name of a character in HBP. Her name in my notes was Riley, but it was an easy change so I made it. She also commented on Aberforth Dumbledore in that same talk. Aberforth will be making an appearance in this one in a few chapters, that was already planned, however.
Huge thanks to my beta, Mistral, for getting this into shape and ready for posting.
Next week's update may not happen exactly on Friday, since I’ll be in Disney World with my kids! I’m so excited, if it’s ready, I’ll try and post the day before I leave, but if not, you might have to wait until I return, but then I’ll give you two, okay?